Just as memories of blackberries and blackberry cobbler occupy prime real estate in my favorite childhood memory bank, fried okra is in the same neighborhood. Recalling my grandmother’s instructions on how to make good Southern Fried Okra paints a picture, in words and images, that I hope I never forget. There’s no need for me to do anything more than straight out explain how she taught me. And, I need to translate. Her colloquialisms and manner of speech might not be familiar or understandable unless you’re from the Deep South and you grew up with a little 5 foot nothing Southern Baptist grandmother.
Let’s get in the kitchen with Virginia Phillips and cook us some fried okra.
You need to wash and rinch that okrey mighty good.
Okra is no different from any other fruit or vegetable. It should all be washed and rinsed well before eating. She would warn me particularly about vegetable grown close to the ground, such as Southern peas or collards, that could be gritty. That’s not the case with okra. It grows high on the stalk. Nonetheless, we wash and rinse.
Cut off the stems and chip up the okrey real good with a good little keen knife. If it cuts hard with a knife, it’ll sho’ nuff chew hard in your mouth. Throw all the woody ones away and don’t pay them no mind. Once they get hard, they ain’t nothing you can do about it.”
After the okra has been properly washed, cut off the top and slice the rest of the okra pod up in uniform pieces. Okra grows very fast and can go from perfect for harvest to hard as a piece of wood in one day. Because they grow so fast and get hard quickly, it’s not uncommon to come across a pod, now and again, that is wood-like. Throw those away because you could chew for the rest of your life and never soften it up. No amount of cooking can help it once it gets to that point.
Put all your chipped up okrey in the biggest bowl ya got in the house. Pour just enough good buttermilk over the okrey to soak it but don’t drowned it.
Most of us keep our bowls in the kitchen, not scattered throughout the house. So did my grandmother, however, she frequently used the term house to mean kitchen. It was as if cooking was carried on throughout the entire house. That wasn’t the case. Now, if you happen to keep your biggest bowl somewhere other than the kitchen, now’s the time to retrieve it. Actually, I don’t use a bowl for breading okra. I use a plastic disposable storage bag and that’s what I would recommend you use. Pour just enough buttermilk over the okra to coat it but it shouldn’t be swimming in buttermilk. In addition to adding some flavor, the buttermilk provides a nice surface to which the cornmeal will cling.
Get you about half as much good cornmeal as you have okrey. Put a right smart bit of salt in the cornmeal but don’t get it too salty. Eating too much salt will dry up your blood.
If salt dried up your blood, my husband wouldn’t have a drop of wet blood left in his body. I think we can safely confirm that salt won’t dry up your blood. It can raise your blood pressure and cause some other issues, but I do believe your blood will stay wet. My grandmother was never specific about proportions or amount of each ingredient in the food she cooked. Terms like “right smart amount”, “just a tad”, “a heaping amount” were standard for her. Telling me to use half a much cornmeal as okrey was more specific than usual for her. I’ve worked out proportions which I will share in the recipe.
Put your salt over in your cornmeal and then work it in with the okrey.
Add salted cornmeal to the bag of sliced okra. Secure the bag and shake it well until all the pieces are well coated.
You need a right smart bit of good, hot grease. The okrey needs to be leveled out in the grease.
My cooking vessel of choice is a 12 inch cast iron skillet. Cooking oil needs to be at least two inches deep. The breaded okra needs to be completely covered with the oil and should only be one layer deep. Heat the oil to medium high before adding the okra.
Once you put your okrey in the pan, you’ve got to be particular ’cause it will burn up directly.
Okra cooks fast. You need to watch it carefully.
Drop it down in that good hot grease and go to stirrin’.
Stir the okra continuously in the hot oil. That will ensure that it browns uniformly and will keep the pieces from clumping together.
As soon as it looks right, dreen it on some good paper toweling. If you’re slap out of paper toweling, dreen it on a brown paper sack.
The okra will cook to a nice golden brown in about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with additional salt if necessary.
Now, you’re ready to eatcha a bait o’ okrey!
The best I can tell, using bait in this context is derived from middle English and means a full meal. Granny used the term “bait” a lot in reference to amounts of food. I’ve eaten several baits and messes of fried okra in my lifetime with many more to come. I think there will be an all-you-can-eat fried okra buffet in Heaven. Granny will have the grease good and hot when I get there.
Y’all come see us!
One of my favorite foods on the planet, I think I could eat fried okra everyday and never tire of it. Making great, authentic fried okra is simple if you pay attention to a few tips. Buttermilk helps the cornmeal adhere to the okra pieces. Continuous stirring of the okra in hot grease ensures equal browning as well preventing the slices from clumping together. Be sure to drain the okra well after removing it from the grease. The proportions in this recipe makes a large quantity. I just happened to have 4 cups of sliced okra. You can either make up a large batch and cook it all at once, or take out what you need for one meal and keep the breaded uncooked okra in the your refrigerator and cook it in the next day or two.
4 cups sliced okra
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix cornmeal and salt. Set aside.
Placed okra in a large bowl. Pour in buttermilk and mix until all okra pieces are coated.
Place about 1/3 of the okra and buttermilk mixture in a gallon size plastic storage bag. Add in some of the cornmeal and keep shaking and adding cornmeal until it’s coated.
Dropped the cornmeal coated okra into a large skillet containing hot cooking oil that is at least 2 inches deep. Stir continuously. Cook until golden brown and remove with a slotted spoon. Put okra on several thicknesses of paper towel so it will drain well.
Keep repeating the steps until and cook in batches.
Sprinkle with salt while the okra is still warm.
Be sure to scoop all the little cornmeal crunchies from the pan as you are removing the okra. Don’t throw that away! It’s just as good as the okra.
Southern Fried Okra
- 4 cups sliced okra
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups ground cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- cooking oil
- Mix cornmeal and salt. Set aside.
- Placed okra in a large bowl. Pour in buttermilk and mix until all okra pieces are coated.
- Place about 1/3 of the okra and buttermilk mixture in a gallon size plastic storage bag. Add in some of the cornmeal and keep shaking and adding cornmeal until it’s coated.
- Dropped the cornmeal coated okra into a large skillet containing hot cooking oil that is at least 2 inches deep. Stir continuously. Cook until golden brown and remove with a slotted spoon. Put okra on several thicknesses of paper towel so it will drain well.
- Keep repeating the steps until and cook in batches.
- Sprinkle with salt while the okra is still warm.
- Serve immediately.
- Be sure to scoop all the little cornmeal crunchies from the pan as you are removing the okra. Don’t throw that away! It’s just as good as the okra.